When you're choosing a watch, you need to look past the aesthetic and pay close attention to the components.
After all, quality of components and construction will make the difference between a "throwaway" watch that will fall apart after a few months, and a solidly-built watch that will look and work great for years, if not decades.
Here are 5 tips to help you in your search for a new watch.
Tip #1: A high price does not mean "high quality"
The retail price of watch is determined by a number of factors, including:
- The cost to make the watch, i.e. materials, labour, and the factory's margin
- The number of middlemen between the brand and the final customer, and the margin that they require (e.g. distributors, retailers)
- Brand positioning — is it mass-market, mid-range, luxury, or ultra-luxury?
Ultimately the final retail price of the watch is often completely disconnected from the cost of making the watch. It's ironic because this is the main factor affecting the actual quality of the watch!
Plenty of watches selling at a $200-$250 price range cost less than $12-$15 to produce, and are made with truly bad components. They're able to support that price point because a lot of consumers don't know better and just look at the brand photos or the Instagram account to judge the quality of the product. However, at the same price point, you can get a high quality watch with luxury standard components that will last much longer.
At first glance it may seem difficult to distinguish between watches. But fear not! It's not difficult once you know the lingo. Read on for 4 more practical tips on how to tell the well-made watches from the rip-offs.
Tip #2: Avoid mineral crystals — choose sapphire instead
The crystal is the transparent covering over the watch face. Most watches produced nowadays have a crystal made of mineral or sapphire.
Mineral crystals are cheap to make and are used mainly in lower-end watches. They scratch easily, so if you swipe your watch against a wall or drop it, you can likely get an unsightly permanent scratch on the glass. Cheap watches tend to have mineral crystals because the component cost is significantly lower than than of sapphire crystals.
A scratched mineral crystal on a watch.
Sapphire crystals are more expensive to make and are scratch resistant. You can literally take a knife to the glass and it won't leave a mark. Sapphire is the gold standard today and luxury brands almost exclusively use sapphire crystals.
A Linjer Chronograph with a domed sapphire crystal.
If you want a watch that will look great for years, you should absolutely choose a watch with a sapphire crystal over one with a mineral crystal. (And be wary of watches with mineral crystals that seem expensive to you!)
Tip #3: Check the movement
The movement is the engine of the watch that drives the hands around the dial and powers the watch's other functions (e.g. calendar, chronograph function, etc.).
This is what a quartz movement looks like:
Below is what an automatic movement looks like. Automatic watches often have a glass on the back so you can see the movement at work.
Movements are not made equal. A good movement will keep time reliably; a badly made one will not. This is known as “losing time”, where a watch with a bad movement has tick speeds that are inconsistent. A bad watch can lose minutes a day.
Swiss, Japanese and German movement makers have the best reputations whether it’s for automatic or quartz movements. They lead the industry in innovation. Some of the most well-known Swiss movement makers are Ronda (particularly for quartz movements), ETA and Sellita. (Linjer watches use Ronda and ETA movements.) In Japan you have Seiko, Miyota and Citizen, etc. There's also a number of independent movement makers, particularly in Germany and Switzerland.
However, as with any "Made in" designation, it's impossible to say, "all movements from [country] are good". Any country has good suppliers, not-so-good suppliers, and downright bad suppliers. Best is to ask who the manufacturer is for the particular model and do some searching for yourself online.
Tip #4: Check the leather
If the watch comes with a leather band, check how the leather is described.
"Full grain" is the highest quality of leather — it means that the leather retains its top layer, the most durable part of the hide. Only the highest quality of hides can be used for full grain leather.
A step down in quality is "top grain", which uses slightly lower-quality hides with more imperfections and defects; the top layer is removed so it's somewhat less durable. Depending on how much of the top layer has been removed, top grain leather can range in quality level.
Avoid "genuine leather". It sounds like an innocent term that verifies that it's real leather (vs fake leather) — but it's actually an industry term used for the layers of the hide that remain after the top part is split off for higher grade leather. The fibres here are very loose, making for a not-so-strong leather that will hold its shape purely.
Full grain leather ages nicely and is the most durable. It's unlikely to rip or disintegrate in the same way that lower quality straps will.
Most leather bands are made of top grain and genuine leather. If you're paying a pretty penny for a watch, it would be worthwhile to check what quality of leather you are paying for.
To learn more about leather, view the Our Leather section on our website.
Tip #5: Check small details
The devil is in the details! Examine the watch carefully for others signs of cut corners in materials and workmanship.
Here are a few details that betray a watch that hasn't been made with high quality standards:
- Plastic spacers between the glass and the dial
- Uneven brushing (if the watch has a brushed finish)
- Unexpectedly light in weight (it could mean that they've skimped on materials)